Last year, Black Friday saw 404,835 orders placed, with 55% of shoppers purchasing online. This unprecedented level of customer demand saw the websites of several high-profile retailers buckle under pressure. However, there were plenty more that handled the sudden spikes in activity.
With an even bigger number of online retailers expected to offer discounts this year, Black Friday 2015 is set to be the first time that UK shoppers will spend £1bn in one day. Online retailers need to ensure that their eCommerce infrastructure is set up to handle extreme peaks in demand, in order to meet customer expectations.
So what went wrong for online retailers last year? More importantly, what can eCommerce teams do to avoid their sites going down at that critical time again this year?
Prepare and test
Sites that perform well have usually been thoroughly tested prior to critical times. Load-testing determines the websites behaviour under ordinary conditions and when traffic may be higher to assess its response.
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In other words, it tests response times, input rates and capacity. Sites that perform well will use load-testing to highlight any areas of weakness that may hinder performance during busy periods.
Stress-testing is another way to understand what levels of traffic a website can withstand. The purpose is to overload the website with different traffic scenarios. If servers start to show a slow-down in performance, the flaws of the site are highlighted. Testers are then in a position to optimise code and infrastructure in order to prepare for busy conditions.
As an invaluable tool for websites, stress-testing should be performed all year round. That said, it is even more critical to ensure optimal performance for websites. Infrastructure needs to be ready to scale up according to demand during peak times so each customer has a pleasant eCommerce experience.
Use the web to your advantage
The great advantage an online retailer has over a bricks and mortar retailer is it knows a great deal more about the prospective customer before they arrive on the site, based on their IP address.
Pro-actively interpreting this address helps alleviate traffic at peak points. For example, if you know that 95 per cent of your customers come from the UK and France, you can use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that geographically locates users, to slow down (but not drop) sessions from other less likely destinations such as Venezuela.
Optimise your mobile presence
In 2014, mobile traffic accounted for 59.8% of all UK online traffic on Black Friday. In order to compete effectively, businesses need to optimise their websites for mobile use.
Customers expect the same level of service no matter how they access the website. If they are given a substandard service, it is unlikely they will return to visit the desktop site.
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Mobile shoppers are generally on the move, particularly if on a smartphone. Always keep the customers’ priorities in mind when optimising the website. Is the search facility user friendly? Is the site easy to navigate and intuitive? Can they find exactly what they need and not have to trail through a lot of content to get there? If they do, the chances are they’ll move on to the next retailer who can offer a more streamlined service.
Having an aesthetically dynamic eCommerce site is great, but remember it is primarily a tool to enable customers to make purchases. Simplify the customer experience by ensuring there is a streamline to checkout. Don’t lose them before they pay.
With so many online retailers to compete with on Black Friday, site performance is the key. There is a huge opportunity for online retailers to capitalise on what is expected to be the biggest shopping day of the year. But don’t fall short by not being prepared.
Stress-testing is a great way to demine whether your site can withstand the surge of traffic. Black Friday is an opportunity for businesses to obtain data and create analytics to ensure success is continued throughout the year. Do not allow your hosting provider let you down.
Sourced from Mark Stephens, Head of eCommerce, Cogeco Peer 1